Home > Projects > Community Heritage Fund > Redesdale’s Barn and Tawny Owls – Northumbria Ringing Group

The Northumbria Ringing Group is using their £1,000 Community Heritage Fund award to help conserve and promote Redesdale’s bird populations.

People will be taking part in making nest boxes to distribute throughout Redesdale. The focus is Barn and Tawny Owls, but the project will also help Swifts, Tits and Flycatchers, and Northumbria Ringing Group will monitor the nest box success. “Owls are a part of our wildlife heritage and particularly appeal to children. Nest boxes create a secure nest site, so will increase breeding opportunities and the public events will boost interest in bird conservation.” – Bryan Galloway, Northumbria Ringing Group

Find out more about the Northumbrian Ringing Group’s project below.

Barn Owls

Northumbria Ringing Group members started a project with the Ministry of Defence and Northumberland National Park Authority in 2003, to produce and install nest boxes for Barn Owls in various locations in Redesdale. With the cooperation of landowners and tenants they were sited either in trees but more preferably inside buildings.

By 2008, 26 boxes had been located and by 2019 23 boxes have attracted breeding pairs of Barn Owls.  Members of the Northumbria Ringing Group, who have the appropriate Schedule One licence issued by Natural England, visit all of the nests to monitor productivity (the number of young fledgling per pair) and to ring the nestlings using rings issued by the British Trust for Ornithology. Since 2003 over 400 nestling Barn Owls have been ringed and some birds have moved up to 80kms from where they fledged and have been found up to 8 years after ringing.

Barn Owls have a tough time in very cold winters. Many did not survive the successive winters of 2008 – 2011 – a disaster for the region’s population. Prolonged snow cover prevented them from finding food, which in Redesdale is largely field voles (confirmed by analysis of regurgitated pellets at nest sites), so many owls died. Over 60 ringed birds were found dead or dying through starvation with a high proportion being found by farmers in farm buildings. However, it was not all bad news because some of the lucky or more experienced birds that survived those winters have gone on to produce more offspring, including two broods in some years (this occurs when there is an abundance of voles in the late summer).

During the last two breeding seasons the Northumbria Ringing Group have assessed nest box condition and availability throughout Redesdale and have concluded that there is a need to replace some weathered boxes and provide more at new sites. The Revitalising Redesdale Community Heritage Fund has agreed to fund the production of 10 boxes over the 2019/2020 winter.

Tawny Owls

Tawny Owls are sometimes referred to as “Wood Owls”. They most often nest in holes in trees or in nest boxes sited in suitable woodland. They mainly prey on wood mice and voles. There are many suitable woods in Redesdale but not enough natural holes. The Tawny Owl is a species of Conservation Concern and the British Trust for Ornithology asked volunteers to help record calling birds during spring 2019.

Northumbria Ringing Group responded with a pilot study in early spring 2019 installing 6 nest boxes in suitable woodland in Redesdale. Much to their surprise breeding Tawny Owls immediately moved in to 4 boxes and all were successful in fledging young. Nest boxes are relatively secure helping the owls produce more young. Some individuals are even known to live for up to 20 years, so can potentially raise 40 – 50 young during a lifetime.  

With so few suitable natural sites there was clearly a need to produce more nest boxes to help establish a viable population throughout Redesdale, which would link with the already long established, healthy population in the nearby Border Forests.  The Revitalising Redesdale Community Heritage Fund is provided funding for 15 boxes over the coming winter, built to a high quality specification by a local joiner. The Group started siting the boxes in Redesdale in early November.  The Community Heritage Fund will also support the construction of nest boxes for other species of National Conservation Concern (e.g. Swifts and Flycatchers) for siting in early spring.

The plan is to have all boxes in place by the end of December 2019.

Northumbria Ringing Group members will start monitoring in early 2020 and landowners and tenants will be invited to attend nest visits together with interested parties where appropriate. Look out for end of season results and presentations at various locations in Redesdale next year.

Based on an article by: Bryan and Paul Galloway, Northumbria Ringing Group members